Tri-Tip and Brisket: What’s the Difference Between the Cuts?

Sep 17, 2018 | Blog

If you live in the US, it’s probably hard to imagine a good barbecue or cook-out without a nice cut of beef. Brisket is the traditional favorite, but tri-tip has been gaining in popularity, and for good reason.

These two cuts come from the opposite side of the animal, and they are different regarding texture and flavor. Let’s take a look at the differences.


There are nine prime cuts of beef and the brisket is the absolute king when it comes to BBQ. This popular cut is the famous king of beef smoking and the go-to choice for an old-fashioned barbecue. Depending on where you’re located in the United States, no plate of BBQ is complete without it.

Where is this Cut Located

A brisket is a large piece of muscle from the breast or lower chest of beef, just under the first five fibs. These muscles support a lot of the cow’s weight because cows do not have collarbones. As a result, a lot of connective tissue and tendons develop, making the brisket a tough cut of meat. The connective tissue needs to be tenderized by cooking, and for this reason, a brisket is always cooked for long periods of time on low heat.

What to Look for When Buying Brisket

A regular beef brisket should weigh anywhere from 8 to 15 pounds. Brisket can either come whole or in two types of cuts; the point cut or the flat cut. The more popular of the two is the flat cut.

Typically this cut will cost $4-$5 per pound.

Point Cut

This cut has more marbled fat running through it and as a result can be more tender when cooked. This cut is often shredded once cooked. This cut is also used to make “burnt ends” which is popular in Kansas City-style barbecue.

Flat Cut

The flat cut is much leaner and will feature a layer of fat on the bottom to keep the meat nice and moist. This option is more commercially sold and is used more for slicing.


It can be prepared in various ways, including roasting, baking, and boiling. In the United States, the most popular method of cooking briskets includes marinating the meat or rubbing it with spices and then cooking it low and slow over charcoal or wood. If you use wood, the smoke from particular types of wood like oak and hickory work well.

In Jewish tradition, a brisket is typically prepared braised as a pot roast.


The beef tri-tip, also known as California cut or Santa Maria steak has been used for hamburger meat for many years, but it has also been gaining in popularity in recent years as an excellent option for grilling. It originated in California and is still quite hard to find in many places.

Where is the Cut Located

The California cut is a tender, triangular muscle that comes from the bottom of the sirloin. Unlike the brisket above, this “primal loin” doesn’t have a ton of connective tissues making it the most tender part of the cow. It is very tender and flavorful because of superior marbling. It is also less expensive than other types of steaks, like rib-eye.

What to Look for When Buying Tri-Tip

A tri-tip cut usually weighs 1.5 to 2.5 lbs, and it is, in fact, an excellent steak. Often this cut is used to create individual steaks labeled as “Newport steaks.” When you buy this cut, only opt for the “choice” grade. This grade ensures the fat marbling and flavor that everyone is after with this cut.

On average you should expect to pay $7-8 per pound for this cut.


Beef tri-tips can be found with both the thick fat cap on, and with the fat cap removed. Often this cap is trimmed, as the cook is rather short and it really isn’t needed for a juicy finished product. In a tri-tip, fibers run in two directions and are most easily seen when raw.

Whole tri-tip can be smoked and even seared and then indirect grilled. Before cooking, you should study the marbled fat from fat to thin end. The tri-tip cut will have two different grains that will intersect. Cut vertically, splitting the different grains in half. Slice perpendicular to the grain.

Tri-tip tends to be lower in fat than most other cuts, which means it can dry out faster. Because of this, it is usually cooked rare to medium-rare, but with a good marinade and a “choice” grade, you should have no problem cooking it well done. Still, you should be careful not to overcook it, especially if you are cooking a full roast. 30 to 40 minutes on indirect heat is usually enough to cook an uncut tri-tip.

Billy Stewart

Chef and Reviewer for

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